Question: According to research (at pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/04/05/5-facts-about-buddhists-around-the-world), between the years 2015 to 2060, the Buddhist population will drop by 2% worldwide – due to lower birth rate and possibly higher conversion rate to other religions, making Buddhism more scarce. What do the Pure Land teachings say about birth rates?
Answer: If the question is about birth rate (in terms of fertility) in Amitābha Buddha’s (Āmítuófó) Pure Land, it is a non-question as each being in Pure Land is born transformed from lotuses, which represent purity as their vehicle of birth; not conditioned from sexual intercourse between human parents.
The ‘birth rate’ in Pure Land thus depends on the rate of beings in the universe, beyond just our one human world, who nurture the Three Provisions of Faith, Aspiration and Practice to reach it, as defined at purelanders.com/2018/02/08/the-three-provisions.
According to the Pure Land teachings, there are immeasurable beings in Pure Land now, and as it is created and sustained by the immeasurable compassion, wisdom and meritorious virtues of Āmítuófó, it can encompass all blissfully and accordingly, without any suffering due to overpopulation (which is happening in our world here). In this sense, Buddhists and the Dharma is the most abundant there.
If the question is about birth rate in this human world, the Pure Land teachings in particular did not comment on it. However, from general Buddhist teachings, we know that reduction of Buddhists is natural when entering deeper into the Dharma-Ending Age spanning 10,000 years. This is the present period, when the general quality of Buddhists who learn, practise, realise and share the Dharma well declines. This year 2019 marks 15.5% entry into this era. (At the end of this age is a long period without the Dharma’s presence in this world.)
Being a natural phenomenon due to the cycle of impermanence, even if existing Buddhists, of already lower spiritual quality purposely procreate more, it will be increasingly difficult to maintain or increase the quality and quantity of new Buddhists. This also explains higher conversion rate, due to less appreciation of Buddhism.
In the first place, for more ‘Buddhists’ to be born here, there must be beings who karmically deserve rebirth as human Buddhists in this world during this age. Having less of them is not necessarily negative as it can mean there are more beings who deserve rebirth in other worlds in the Right Dharma Age (such as Pure Land) or Dharma Resemblance Age (in other human worlds).
As Buddhists do not see it as a spiritual ‘duty’ to birth more potential Buddhists, there is no need to compete in numbers. If it is an crucial ‘duty’, how can monastics, who are supposed to be model Buddhists, who abstain from sex, ever fulfil it? In fact, while understanding worldly desires to have children, and allowing ethical conception, Buddhists also openly acknowledge sexual lust as a defiled drive to be tamed and eventually renounced – for liberation to be possible. Being born from sex is not seen as glorious, with sexual desire on the part of beings reborn too. What matters most is being better Buddhists to benefit and inspire more with the Dharma, whether planning to have more children or not.
Although the human rebirth is relatively precious among the six realms, as a platform to learn and practise the Dharma, even more precious is birth in Pure Land – especially if versus birth in this world in this age. Note that the Buddha taught that he will ensure the Pure Land teachings exist, extended beyond the last days of this age for a hundred more years – as the final feasible teachings for practice. This is why we pay special attention to the Pure Land teachings now, for their practicality as a path to liberation. Remember – the Dharma’s focus is for liberation of all beings; not procreation of ‘more’ beings.